This Face Cover Sock Hack Is So Simple – But How Effective Is It?

Natasha Hinde
Sock face masks are easy to make – but are they effective? (Photo: Natasha Hinde)

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A TikTok video showing how to make a face cover from a sock has gone viral, with some saying it’s the “simplest” DIY face mask tutorial they’ve seen yet.

In the video, dance and Zumba instructor Safia Aggoune transforms a solitary striped sock into a cover that wraps around her ears in a matter of seconds – and she doesn’t even use elastic bands. Just scissors.

Aggoune cuts off the bottom of the ankle sock so she’s left with the heel part and some fabric either side. She then cuts along the top fold of the sock, opens it up, folds it again, and cuts slits to form hooks that wrap around her ears.

Watch how she does it below.

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Face covers are now recommended by the UK government for when it’s difficult to socially distance from others, for example on public transport and in some shops. The aim of a face cover isn’t to protect yourself from others, but to protect others from droplets you might expel from your nose and mouth, which could transmit the virus.

As it stands, there’s limited evidence on the effectiveness of face covers when it comes to keeping coronavirus at bay. Whether they work in public settings will depend on many variables, such as how good the fit of the face cover is, what it’s made of, and whether you put it on and take it off properly.

There are studies that suggest certain materials are better. One by US-based social enterprise Smart Air looked at 30 different materials for DIY coverings, and analysed the effectiveness in filtering coronavirus-sized microparticles, as well as breathability. Denim, bed sheets (80-120 thread count), paper towels and canvas (0.4-0.5mm thick) turned out to be the best materials to use.

Experts agree face covers are better than nothing – as long as they are worn in a correct way, while adopting stringent hygiene measures.

If it’s a very thin sock, it won’t be as effective as a thicker fabric. Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care services at the University of Oxford

Socks are often made from different materials – some from polyester, others from acrylic, nylon, spandex and polypropylene or a mixture of these. So, are they protective enough for a face cover?

William Keevil, professor of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton, says T-shirt material is probably better than a sock. “A US company showed that open weave fabrics are not good filters – so socks might be worse than T-shirts,” he says. 

However, Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care services at the University of Oxford, says it “depends on the sock”. But ultimately, it’s best to use another material to layer up. “The main thing I’d want to see [in a face cover] is a double layer of cloth, and preferably two different fabrics as they’d have different physical and electrostatic properties,” she says. 

“Also, if it’s a very thin sock, it won’t be as effective as a thicker fabric.”

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So it’s probably best to team your sock with another material. Greenhalgh recommends sticking a mini panty liner to the inside of the sock mask. “Panty liners have a waterproof backing,” she explains. If you don’t have a panty liner, a handkerchief would do the trick, she adds.

Alternatively, you could pop a bit of paper towel or kitchen roll between your face and the sock to act as a secondary filter, as this material scored highly in the study on DIY masks. Simply bin the paper towel when you get home and wash the material mask.

When I try the sock hack myself, I mess it up the first time by cutting the slits for my ears on the wrong side of the sock. However it’s pretty easy when I do it the second time and follow the video a little more closely.

My advice? Go for a larger sock if you can – mine are quite small, so the cover pulls my ears down slightly. I also notice that tiny holes become visible in the fabric when I stretch it across my nose, so I’ll definitely be adding another layer to the mix when wearing out and about.

How to wear a face cover safely

In a recent editorial in the journal JAMA, researchers shared the best way to wear one safely:

  1. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before putting on your face cover.
  2. Put the face cover on without touching your face. It should fit well over your nose and mouth without restricting your breathing.
  3. Do not touch your face or the front of the makeshift mask while wearing it.
  4. When you come to remove it, release the ear loops or ties without touching your face or the face cover.
  5. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after removing the face cover. You should wash it after every wear with detergent and at least 60 degrees celsius.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.